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How to Prepare for Chemotherapy Treatments

There's no doubt that chemotherapy can be scary. The already stressful circumstances become even more daunting when you're not sure what to expect. Often, things can feel like they are spinning out of control, and it can be hard to get a grasp on the situation.

An easy way to feel more confident is to prepare for what is coming. Being prepared helps you regain control and lift some of the anxiety that comes from chemotherapy.Here are some ways that you can prepare to help you feel more calm and self assured before your first chemo appointment.


  Ask Questions

Realize that every person and every cancer is different, and there is no “one size fits all” way to describe what chemo is like. Chemo comes in many shapes, forms, and mixtures, so treatments and side effects will vary from case to case. To complicate things even more, not everyone will respond to the same drugs in the same way. The only way you can learn everything you need to know about your unique situation is by asking your doctor as many questions as possible. Ask where and how you will be receiving the chemo, how many chemo treatments you will have and how long each individual treatment will last, the goals of your chemotherapy, what alternative and supplementary options you may have, what side effects you should expect from your specific chemotherapy treatment and chemo drugs, what medications you can take that will help relieve nausea, diarrhea, and constipation, any other questions you want to know the answer to.

You may also want to ask who and what you are allowed to bring to your chemo treatments and what amenities you will have during chemo. For example, you will probably have access to TV and internet, and be provided with lunch or dinner services, depending on what time your chemotherapy is scheduled. You will likely be able to bring food and drink with you, as well as a friend or family member.



Visit your other doctors

One side effect of chemotherapy is dry mouth and mouth sores, making oral care more difficult. Chemotherapy reduces the immune system and significantly increases the chance of infection. This means visits to the dentist — full of poking and prodding in the mouth with sharp things — are off limits. Make an appointment to have your teeth cleaned before you start chemo.

You may also want to visit your gynecologist before you start chemo, as chemotherapy can throw things off balance. If there is a chance you may become pregnant, make sure you have a very reliable method of birth control. Chemotherapy radiation is harmful to fetuses, so pregnancy should be avoided.  



Cook and clean

This isn't the most fun way to prepare, but you will be glad you did it. Precook meals for yourself, children and anyone else who relies on you to cook. Make sure the house is cleaned and picked up. When you arrive home from your treatment, these things will already be taken care of, and you can focus on simply taking care of yourself. However, keep in mind that you may feel nauseous and not be able to keep down the food you have prepared. Try to eat something anyway. Anything. It is important that you continue to get nutrients into your body.  


Get to Shopping!

Now onto the fun part! Hair loss is the most notorious side effect of chemotherapy. Most people will lose their hair a couple weeks after their first treatment, so you will probably have a little bit of time. Shopping for head coverings can be a positive experience that can help you take your mind off of the situation. Friends and family can make the experience even more fun by throwing a hat party.

Everyone has different preferences for head covers; some will want to wear scarves, some prefer hats and beanies, some will only wear wigs, some will be confident sporting a bald head, and others prefer a mixture. Know that you have a lot of great options.Hair protects your head from the elements and keeps it warm. You will most likely want something to replace your hair, at least in some situations. No matter what you decide you want, we recommend that everyone with hair loss from chemo have at least one comfortable cap. The need for a comfy, attractive sleep cap was one of the driving factors for Carol Galland to found Headcovers Unlimited. Without a sleep cap, your head will become cold at night and send chills throughout your body. A comfortable sleep cap will keep you warm and comfortable, and a pretty design will make you feel more confident. It can also be worn to cover the head during the day and anytime you just want to feel comfortable.


Soft Cap Recommendations


If you're feeling overwhelmed and aren't sure what to get, we recommend trying pre-tied scarves, as they are easy, comfortable, and give the draping look of hair for a flattering appearance. Basic beanies in solid colors are also a good option. Here are a couple of our favorites: 

Know that your eyebrows, eyelashes and other body hair may fall out as well as the hair on your head, so you will probably want to have eyebrow makeup on hand. Keep an eye on your brows. If they fall out completely, look into eyebrow wigs, eyebrow tattoos, or learn how to draw your eyebrows on. If your eyelashes thin or fall out, you can get false eyelashes to improve your confidence.



Have Someone There to Help You

You will probably want someone there to help you. This can be anyone, from a spouse to a neighbor.

You may not feel well enough to drive after your appointment, so it is a good idea to arrange for someone to drive you to and from the hospital and keep you company. You may also want someone around once you get home from treatment to help with children and pets, and make sure you are doing well. There is a good chance that you will experience some form of chemobrain, so having someone around to look out for you throughout your treatments is a huge help. That's not to mention the much needed emotional support and encouragement they can provide.



Be prepared to drink a lot of water and watch for dehydration

Some side effects of chemo can make you more susceptible to dehydration. Keep drinking water and keep an eye open for signs of dehydration, like darker colored urine and lightheadedness. If you stay hydrated, you will feel better overall.  

Wear comfy clothes to chemo

You're going to want to be as comfortable as possible, so wear your favorite cozy outfit. Wear clothes that can be easily moved and won't block the port to keep things moving as smoothly as possible.

  Our recommendations:


  Your skin will probably become dry and sensitive.

Only use skincare products that are formulated for sensitive skin. Always have lotion on hand and use it daily, or your skin, particularly on your hands, may become so dry that it starts to peel off. Make sure to use sunscreen before going outside to avoid sunburns. Your lips will likely become dry as well, so wear lip balms to keep your lips moisturized and comfortable.


Cosmetics Recommendations

  • Aloe Lip Care Treatment

    Made of aloe vera and vitamin E, this lip balm moisturizes and soothes the lips. It provides SPF 20. $3.99

  • Alra Therapy Lotion

    This lotion was formulated specifically for cancer patients, so it offers great healing power to radiation-affected skin, moisturizes, and cools. It can be used all-over. $15.99



Things to bring: Your Chemo Kit

You're going to be sitting there for awhile. Bring something to distract youself. Take a book, coloring book, knitting project, Ipad with Netflix, a friend to talk to, a small craft, or anything else to occupy your time with you to your treatment. Try bringing this free coloring page! These activity books  or this inspirational and informative read are also great options.


Snacks and Water
Now, I'm no psychologist, but I do know one thing: people like to eat. If you're stressed, snacking can help you to remain calm. Also, you may just be there awhile and get hungry. Bring a healthy snack like almonds, carrots or berries. Take a bottle of water with you to help combat potential dehydration.


Lip balm and lotion
Chemo can dry out your skin and lips, so its a good idea to have lotion and lip balm with you. See our recommendations above.


A blanket, wrap, or scarf
It can get chilly in the hospital, and a jacket, sweater or cardigan can get in the way of the IV. Bring a scarf, wrap, or light blanket to wrap around yourself if you start to feel cold. A blanket scarf or wrap is also a great option for travel!


Tote bag
You're going to need something to keep your things in, and a quality tote bag is just the thing. A tote bag also works perfectly for overnight hospital stays.

  We hope this article provided you with some useful tips that will make you feel less stressed out and more confident about your chemo treatments.

Comments, Questions & Ratings

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Great information Review by How to Prepare for Chemotherapy Treatments
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Never having had chemo before means I don't even know, what I don't know enough to ask questions. I feel much more prepared for the side effects now. Appreciate the information! (Posted on 08/02/2019) Review by How to Prepare for Chemotherapy Treatments
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Thank you; very informative. (Posted on 05/19/2018)